Guest Contributor

by Pat Brandenstein

Have you ever wrapped, twisted, and pulled a rubber band several times? What happens? Under stress, the rubber band eventually breaks.

Our lives are something like a rubber band. We are surrounded by stress — working, meeting deadlines, interacting with others, keeping up with daily chores and appointments, shopping, and so forth.

Physiologists have measured the degrees of stress in our lives. Two of the top stressors are loss of a spouse through death and loss of a spouse through divorce. Along with these stressors, physiologists have found that women react 30 percent more to stress then men.

In my next few articles, I will focus on stress produced by death of a spouse and divorce of a spouse. I’ll look at this from a holistic approach — a fancy term describing someone’s overall wellbeing — including physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, financial, social, and environmental factors.

Physically speaking, cortisol is a hormone released in our bodies when we are placed in stressful situations. It can manifest itself in one or more of the following ways:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Sleeplessness
  • Migraines
  • Tunnel vision
  • Acid reflux
  • Anger
  • Weight loss
  • Weight gain
  • Decreased immune system
  • Teeth grinding

Widows or widowers are advised to visit their primary care doctor shortly after the loss of their spouse. Other coping skills to combat the physical impact of stress include:

  • Place physician-ordered medication close to items used daily — coffeepot, toothbrush, favorite easy chair, desk, etc. This helps ensure the medication will not be forgotten.
  • Go easy on caffeine and chocolate which can cause insomnia. Read food and drink ingredient labels.
  • Weight loss can be caused by loss of appetite. Eat small quantities of food frequently.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Get regular physical activity. Go walk with a friend.
  • Listen to low-key music, such as classical, that contains stringed instruments, piano, or nature sounds.
  • Try breathing exercises. While exhaling, count to 20. Do the same while inhaling.
  • Get a relaxation massage.

It can take someone two to seven years to recover from the loss of a spouse. Widows and widowers should not be hard on themselves thinking they should “pop back” into their daily routines immediately.

If a relative or friend is experiencing physical symptoms mentioned earlier, be patient. You could suggest some of the above ideas to relieve the physical signs of stress. Most importantly, encourage regular physician visits and remind the person to mention the loss of the spouse so the doctor will have insight into what the widow/widower is experiencing.

Pat Brandenstein is co-founder of Wings of Hope Widows Ministry, a 501(3) c with Chapters of Widows in Cheatham, Rutherford, and Franklin counties. Wings of Hope assists widows in forming chapters in their communities and churches in developing widowed persons ministries. For more information, contact Brandenstein at 931-636-4359 or brandensteinr@bellsouth.net. Webpage: wingsofhopewidowsministry.com, Facebook and Instagram: Wings of Hope Widows Ministry.

This article originally appeared in the February 2021 issue of ENCORE Ministry Matters. To receive this free monthly enewsletter, contact emmatters@encoretnumc.org.